As of July 26, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is 31 years old and continues to help the estimated 20% of the American workforce who struggle with some form of disability. That said, in the three decades that the ADA has been safeguarding worker’s rights, there remains a lack of guidance on the exact responsibilities and employer actions needed for supporting employees equally during a crisis like, say, a global pandemic.
The deaf or hard of hearing, the blind or visually impaired, and others with various types of disabilities have all faced significant challenges in light of COVID-19. As an employer, you need to take care in making adjustments and providing reasonable accommodations as part of your pandemic efforts.
Disabilities, the ADA, & Reasonable Accommodation
Hourly workforces industries tend to host extremely diverse groups of employees, making it a challenge to accommodate everyone perfectly. However, in circumstances where the health of both your operation and employees are at risk, it’s critical you go the extra mile to achieve ADA compliance.
Approximately 48 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing, and approximately 2.2% of the non-institutionalized population has a visual disability. These groups need access to pandemic trainings, facility signage, and effective personal protective equipment (PPE) same as the rest of your workforce. They also need to be able to use your company website or communications platforms, request protected leave, and access their employee benefits without being asked discriminatory questions.
No two employees are guaranteed to need the same accommodations. With so many unique needs to consider, you will need to take an individualized approach. No one knows exactly what the future of this virus will look like, or when it will fully leave our lives, so it’s best to review your ADA policies, compliance efforts, and any state-level legislation that might affect your operation now.
Tips for Lowering Liability Risks
Unless an employee’s request causes undue hardship for your business (something that affects the functionality or success of your operation), you must take all ADA requirements into consideration as best you can while helping employees through each phase of the pandemic.
Consider the following tips for avoiding potential lawsuits:
- There are many types of disabilities, and all are considered valid. While certain disabilities (such as being in a wheelchair) are widely recognized by society, it’s important to remember that any mental or physical illnesses that substantially impair or limit major life activities are covered by the ADA. As you accept accommodation requests and approach employees about their ongoing pandemic needs, make sure you assist with as many conditions and reasonable requests as possible.
- Don’t assume one size fits all. As previously mentioned, it is unwise to assume two employees with a “shared” disability will benefit from the exact same accommodations. For example, there are different types of hearing loss, and not every person with a hearing disability uses the same method of overcoming their communication barriers. Those who rely on speech/lip reading, something nearly impossible to do with certain face masks, will not need the same accommodations as those with hearing aids!
- Focus on initiatives for communicating effectively. Whether that’s bringing in more American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or auxiliary aids, ordering writing materials or white boards, or allowing transparent face shields – all efforts to promote better communication will be good for maintaining ADA victories. At the end of the day, easing the interactions between your employees with disabilities and the rest of your workforce will guarantee more equalized pandemic assistance for all.
- Consider how technology affects employees’ disabilities. Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a distinct rise in ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuits. You need to make sure your online platforms, employee portals, and training videos can all be used by the entirety of your workforce. As an example, prioritizing pandemic training videos with closed-captioning or live-transcription services are necessary for all your workers to be able to succeed. If that’s not possible, consider live trainings for those who need it.
- Review your reasonable accommodation policies. In addition to clarifying your reasonable accommodation guidelines, see to it that your employees and managers are aware of your process for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Benefits Administration & Your ADA Efforts
As an employer, you’ve witnessed the increased administrative burdens, compliance concerns and workforce management obstacles brought on by COVID-19 first hand. Luckily, top-notch benefits administration tools have been able to aid HR’s efforts to tackle the added work and increase the efficiency of struggling processes.
Using a benefits administration solution can help free up your HR team, so more focus can be given to the individualized needs of your employees with disabilities. Check out our blog, “Beyond ADA Compliance, Employers Are Actively Recruiting Workers with Disabilities” for more insight, or check out a demo today!